One of this year’s most hotly tipped titles is Namco’s Enslaved: Odyssey To The West. It’s not surprising this is a much-hyped game when you look at the personnel involved.
The story, while based on an old Chinese tale (the same one as Monkey, if you remember that bit of teatime madness) has been given a polish by Alex “The Beach” Garland. Music comes from multi-award winning composer Nitin Sawhney. The main character has been motion-captured in exquisite detail by motion-capture man of the moment Andy “Gollum / King Kong” Serkis.
And then all our hopes came crashing down with the revelation that it’s set in a post-apocalyptic world. Yawn. Here we go again, we thought. Washed out browns and greys, assorted mutants, shoot and shoot and again, yadda yadda yadda. And then we saw it. And then I got my hands on it – all too briefly – for a bit of a play. And suddenly that lost excitement? It’s back. In spades.
To say that Enslaved is a good looking game is a bit like saying Angelina Jolie’s a moderately attractive or it might be quite nice to get a naked back rub from Cheryl Cole. Twice in the first 30 seconds, Enslaved made me stop and coo and say very bizarre, non-gamey things like “look at the leaves!”
Instead of the usual bleak, post-apocalyptic event setting, Tameem Antoniades (who bills himself endearingly as the game’s “chief creative ninja”) and his team have gone for what is actually a more realistic outcome. If humankind gets wiped out, the planet returns to nature. It might take a while to happen, but nature recovers a lot quicker than man and, with us out of the way, will muscle in on all the cities. Hence greenery – massive greenery – all over the playing environment. “It’s quite pretty,” explains Tameem completely unnecessarily. It’s not pretty. It’s Angelina / Cheryl fantasy gorgeous.
The story is pretty standard stuff with a little mystery. It’s 150 years in the future, the world as we know it has gone and nature’s reclaimed the planet. There are a few survivors but they keep getting captured, bundled onto mysterious slaveships which disappear to – you guessed it – the west. Two possible slaves however have escaped: Trip, a hacker, who’s slipped the net thanks to her intelligence and Monkey, who’s evaded the captors thanks to pure brawn and balls.
Trip realises that Monkey is her key to survival and, to make sure he doesn’t stray, she hacks a slave headband which means they’re linked: if she dies, he dies. Which, frankly, is a pretty decent incentive.
Unsurprisingly, this means that you play the game as Monkey, the brawler, rather than as Trip with her computer-programming skills. Those things are useful, but they don’t make for a good game experience.
Running around, beating up the mechanical beasties that apparently saw off mankind, swinging from poles, clambering up walls, overcoming puzzles and obstacles... It’s a little bit Prince of Persia, it’s a little bit Gears of War, it’s a little bit many other titles. There’s not much brutally original about Enslaved’s gameplay but, from this brief dip into the title, it’s instinctive, slick and well made. Besides, the look of the game and the detail make up for many shortcomings although we wait to see if that will still overcome any flaws when we’re, say, 12 hours into it. From what I got to play, however, this makes even Unchartered look like a 1960’s TV show.
By contrast, the combat is bruising and brutal. “Monkey’s not balletic,” says Tameem, again slightly unnecessarily. He can be aided by Trip in some respects – she has an EMP device that will temporarily stun the mechs – but it’s shortlived and requires several seconds to recharge. For the most part, you’ll be relying on Mr Serkis’ physicality for some beautifully realised, metal-crunching action.
Tameem describes the game as being akin to “a buddy movie” just one that’s “targeting a gamer who wants a challenge.” Combat, adventure and puzzle solving have often been combined for console-based entertainment. If this early preview is an indication of the game as a whole, Enslaved might have made itself the new benchmark for such things.